Thursday, April 5, 2012

Experimenting in College: A Start for the NCAA

To say college athletes don't value education would be disingenuous.  It's simply not true.  Every season there are great stories of those who play under the bright lights on campus while performing equally well, or even more impressively, in the classroom.  Kirk Cousins, Myron Rolle, and Robbie Hummel immediately come to mind.

But, it is fair to say that the concept of the student-athlete is broken.  Change is imperative.

Two stories over the past week reaffirmed my concern that young men are being used as financial pawns in the game of college athletics.

LSU safety and future NFL first round draft pick, Morris Claibrone, recently scored a four out of 50 on the NFL's standardized Wonderlic test.  A FOUR!

Claiborne is blessed with God-given talent and undoubtedly worked very hard to become one of the best players in the game, but at what cost?  The cost of a lack of education.

The Wonderlic isn't exactly the Bar Exam.  It isn't meant to identify a player as a genius, only competent.  Claiborne's abysmal low score is a testament to his and LSU's commitment to education.  It was non-existent.  Scoring a four basically indicates Claiborne either has a learning disability or has not been given the most BASIC tools to use his mind effectively anywhere but the football field.

Surely someone identified these problems in his three years at a Division 1 university.  He had tutors, coaches, and professors who must have noticed he struggled academically.  But, all obviously turned a blind eye because Claiborne had skill that translated to wins and subsequent revenue.

But, and I by no means hope this happens, but what if Claiborne blows out his knee in the preseason and can never play another down of football in his life.  Now what is left?  A young man is his early 20s with basically no educational foundation.  There are thousands of top notch college graduates who are sleeping in their parents basement because the jobs market is still brittle.  If Claiborne is without football and forced into a game where his mind is the primary muscle, he is not only not a star, heck, Claiborne isn't even in the arena.

He has all his eggs in one basket, football.  If they start to crack, he will be without a fallback option because he failed to take education seriously despite having a prime opportunity and those around him let him squander it because they were benefiting from his natural ability.

A disgrace.

Monday night, I watched confetti fall, smiles shine bright, and trophies held high as Kentucky completed a dominating season in men's college basketball and claimed another National Championship in the school's storied history and first for head coach John Calipari.

The team, like others that Calipari took to Final Fours, was highlighted with standout freshmen.  Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both won't be able to legally drink alcohol for another three years, and even another year in Canada, yet they were responsible for not only carrying a team in front of a national audience, but also making their University, TV networks, and their coach endless amounts of money.

Both of these men will both be millionaires themselves shortly, and I have no reason to believe they don't take academics seriously.  But, they are puppets and the NCAA is pulling the strings.

Kentucky jerseys with Davis' number 23 could be seen in the stands throughout the tournament.  His famous/infamous unibrow was used as a marketing tool and what did he get? A nine month stay on Lexington's campus before jumping to the NBA.

I don't fault players like Davis and MKG for leaving after a year to make millions of dollars playing a game they have dedicated their life to, but college is an experience all students, athlete and other, should savor.  It's four years to grow and find yourself.

The NCAA makes BILLIONS, with a B, of dollars on the success of "student"-athletes.  There is plenty of cash to go around.  For an organization that prides itself on "EDUCATION" you would think the NCAA would do more to push that aspect and one way to do so is money.

Anthony Davis would probably go to the NBA after a year regardless, even if he was given an increased stipend.  He is physically and talent-wise ready for the pros.  But there are many who make the jump who aren't.  Michigan State's Marcus Taylor comes to mind.  He had a lot of college talent, but left too early for the money grab in the NBA.  He was drafted, but never hit it big.

If the NCAA increases the amount it pays to college student-athletes or reforms the rules for them to make money from their talent, it is more likely players like Taylor will stay on campus longer, develop their skill on the floor and in the classroom further, and be more well rounded when they GRADUATE.

The NCAA makes money on talents of those such as Davis, so why shouldn't Davis?  If he signs an autograph on a jersey with HIS number and sells it, Davis sits out for the season.  If the NCAA sells the same jersey, it pockets the money.  That seems unjust.

A physics student can make money doing research on cells and equations.  They have skills that translate to cash.  Davis and other athletes have their own set of skills, it's time to let them cash in while at the same time enjoying the benefits of college education.

I'm not asking for these players to make millions while on campus, but instead, a small percentage of the revenue generated from their sport or a scale set for what would be comparable to a part-time campus job.  That's fair.

I acknowledge this won't resolve all the problems in college sports.  But it's a start.  College is all about experimenting and learning, and things won't get better until the NCAA starts doing so.

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